01 Mar. 2022
2021 has been a year that has been underlined by the comeback of handball throughout the world, recovering after the COVID-19 pandemic stopped virtually all competitions for several months in 2020.
With the 2021 IHF Women’s World Championship and the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 producing high-quality games, the IHF are pleased to announce the nominees for the 2021 IHF Female World Player of the Year, with the shortlist being decided by a pool of experts, consisting of the top national team coaches and IHF experts, who earmarked the top players in women’s handball in 2021.
Players from three different countries are represented in the final shortlist, with reigning Olympic champions France boasting two players, while Norway, the reigning European and world champions, have two chances to seal the award.
Kari Brattset Dale – Norway / Győri Audi ETO KC
The importance of the line players in modern handball cannot be understated, with Dale being an integral part of Norway’s success in the last major tournaments. The 31-year-old line player made her debut in Norway’s national team only in 2016 but became crucial both in attack and in defence for the Scandinavian side, capping 2021 off with an astonishing performance at the IHF Women’s World Championship in Spain.
Scoring 38 goals from 46 shots, a superb 83% shooting efficiency, the Norwegian line player was her team’s second top scorer in the competition. But her importance was duly underlined in defence, where Brattset Dale was the key ingredient in Norway’s first world title since 2015.
Moreover, Brattset Dale, who has now played 100 games for the Norway women’s national team and secured two medals in 2021, adding a bronze medal at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, became the first line player to secure the Most Valuable Player award in IHF Women’s World Championship history.
Pauletta Foppa – France / Brest Bretagne Handball
The youngest of the five nominees, Foppa has been steadily improving and has become one of the most dominant forces in handball. Snapped up by Brest Bretagne Handball in 2018, the 21-year-old line player has improved on a year-by-year basis, both in the France national team and at club level, where her team Brest Bretagne Handball made it to the DELO EHF Champions League final last year.
In fact, she truly showed her colours while playing for France, claiming gold at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, the first in history for ‘Les Bleues’, and silver at the IHF Women’s World Championship in December. At both events, she made the All-star Team, after scoring 34 goals from 42 shots at Tokyo 2020 and 29 goals at Spain 2021.
An aggressive defender, great at creating spaces in attack and a calm and collected finisher, Foppa looks set to be one of the best line players in women’s handball for the next decade, having already played more than 50 games and scored more than 100 goals for ‘Les Bleues’.
Stine Bredal Oftedal – Norway / Győri Audi ETO KC
Only two players in history, Hungary’s Bojana Radulovic – two times – and Romanian left back Cristina Neagu – four times – have clinched multiple IHF Female Player of the Year awards. Only Neagu has retained the award in consecutive years, but now, Norway’s centre back Stine Bredal Oftedal can become only the second player to secure the prestigious distinction in back-to-back editions after clinching the trophy in 2019.
It is impossible to understate Oftedal’s penchant for creating chances and developing her team’s attacks, both at club level and for the national team. In 2021, Oftedal has added to her impressive medal collection, securing gold at Spain 2021 and bronze at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, improving the overall tally to 11 in major tournaments.
At Spain 2021, Oftedal has scored 24 times and dished 42 assists, close to her performance at Tokyo 2020, where she scored 23 times and had 39 assists. Now 30 years old, Oftedal is in her prime and is likely to be one of the most decorated players in the history of handball.
Sandra Toft – Denmark / Brest Bretagne Handball
The Danish shot-stopper has been one of the most consistent goalkeepers in the last years and, now, she could write history in women’s handball. No goalkeeper has won the IHF Female Player of the Year award since its introduction in 1988, as Toft prepares to mount a hefty challenge on her opponents.
If a goalkeeper can make it, surely Toft is one of the best equipped to do so. 2021 has been a hallmark year for the Danish ace, winning her first medal at a major tournament with the Scandinavian side, bronze at the IHF Women’s World Championship. She has been immense at the event, making the largest number of saves (80) at an outstanding 43% saving efficiency.
Named for the first time in the All-star Team of a major championship, Toft has also qualified for the DELO EHF Champions League final with her club Brest Bretagne Handball but failed to secure the silverware after losing the last game against Vipers Kristiansand.
Grâce Zaadi Deuna – France / Rostov-Don
The last time a French player won the IHF Female World Player of the Year award was in 2009 as Allison Pineau just finished a stellar campaign to help France clinch the silver medal at the IHF Women’s World Championship. Fast forward to 2021 and another centre back, who is sharing duties with Pineau for ‘Les Bleues’, has been nominated after a superb year.
Grace Zaadi Deuna helped France win their first-ever gold medal at the Olympic Games, sealing a place in the All-star Team as the best centre back at Tokyo 2020, scoring 33 goals and assisting another 31 goals for France. At Spain 2021, the French centre back recorded 27 goals and 41 assists, lifting her team to another silver medal.
With her amazing precision and impressive handball know-how, Zaadi is definitely one of the top minds in women’s handball and a deserved challenge for the trophy after adding 72 goals for her club team Rostov-Don in the DELO EHF Champions League.
The IHF World Player of the Year awards are now back in full swing after the 2020 edition had been cancelled due to handball being ground to a halt throughout the year by the COVID-19 pandemic.
This year, the fan voting for the IHF Female World Player of the Year will run from Monday, 7 March, until 00:00 CEST on 28 March. The IHF will announce the winner on 28 March.